Experts warn of 'lack of learning' from social care innovation failures

By Joe Lepper

| 06 October 2017

The children's social care system tends to "bury failure" rather than learning valuable lessons and sharing the findings, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie) has said.

Scie chief executive Tony Hunter said there are some great examples of innovation in children's social care. Picture: Lucie Carlier

A briefing put together by the organisation, Improving Outcomes for Children and Young People by Spreading Innovation, said that the Department for Education's Social Care Innovation Programme has put a spotlight on many new innovative approaches in the sector, but the challenge is how to maximise the impact of this work.

It highlights "learning from failure" as a "system-wide issue" that needs to be considered in the future.

A number of projects funded through the innovation programme have received positive evaluations. The Pause Project - which was first set up in Hackney to support women who have already had a child taken into care to break the cycle of repeat pregnancies - saves councils up to £2.1m a year. However, Scie said negative evaluation reports are not common.

"Innovation implies that some ideas will fail, but it is noticeable that very few of the DfE Innovation Programme projects received a negative evaluation," the briefing states.

"Was this because risky, but potentially effective, projects were screened out at the application stage?

"Children's social care is a risk-averse culture where failure is likely to be buried rather than shared, but there is much that can be learned from ideas that do not succeed.

"What would it take to be able to fail quickly and safely to enable rapid learning?"

The briefing also highlights a number of common characteristics from successful projects, including effective communication with children, families and communities, a willingness to learn and a realisation that improving practice is a long-term commitment.

"There are some great examples of innovation going on in children's services, and we're beginning to understand the conditions for success - things like a clear vision, evidence of impact, and a commitment to be in it for the long haul," Scie chief executive Tony Hunter said.

"To maximise on these and replicate them elsewhere, we also need to draw on what's worked elsewhere, and our years of experience, to create the conditions where innovation can spread more quickly, and make more difference to the lives of children and young people."

In March, Association of Directors of Children's Services president Alison Michalska raised concerns that the innovation programme is being hindered because information about what works is not being effectively shared and "hasn't really been coherent".

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